Beth Pilling

Beth Pilling grew up in Spring House, Pennsylvania. She had very little interaction in Ambler, and she remembers the White Mountains as being just part of the landscape; there was no concern about asbestos then. Pilling became administrator of the Montgomery County Open Space Program and as a representative she attended all the meetings of Citizens for a Better Ambler and then the community advisory group. She believes that the rejection of the high-rise project reflected concern more with loss of green space and the view than with fear of asbestos. Yet another faction, she says, pushes whatever outcome it desires. Because the future use group could not agree on anything it was disbanded, and Pilling is pessimistic about the future of the site. She says the EPA should have determined to what use the citizens wanted the site put and remediated to that purpose; or the CAG should have determined what possible uses there could be, and the costs of each use, and chosen one.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0825
No. of pages: 32
Minutes: 102

Interview Sessions

Lee Sullivan Berry
6 January 2014
Montgomery County Planning Commission

Abstract of Interview

Beth Pilling grew up in Spring House, Pennsylvania, near Ambler. She remembers the area as being farmland, open and green, with small businesses in the towns. She attended the local public schools until high school, when she went to a private academy in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia. She obtained her degree in horticulture and landscape architecture from Temple University, Ambler. Because Ambler was considered on “the wrong side of the tracks” she had little interaction with it, and she remembers the White Mountains as being just part of the landscape; there was no concern about asbestos then.

Pilling became administrator of the Montgomery County Open Space Program; because open spaces are both local and regional, she became much more involved with a number of aspects of the Borough of Ambler. As representative of Montgomery County she attended all the meetings of Citizens for a Better Ambler and then the community advisory group (CAG). She describes different factions in the CAG and holds that the most active and vocal are those who simply want a cause. She believes that the rejection of the high-rise project reflected concern more with loss of green space and the view than with fear of asbestos. Yet another faction, she says, pushes whatever outcome it desires; here she also notes that she is on the Board of the Wissahickon Valley Waterfowl Association, whose bid for the reservoir would be affected. She does not praise the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) either, saying that it will leave the site contained and safe but useless.

Because the future use group could not agree on anything it was disbanded, and Pilling is pessimistic about the future of the site. She says the EPA should have determined to what use the citizens wanted the site put and remediated to that purpose; or the CAG should have determined what possible uses there could be, and the costs of each use, and chosen one. She feels that the EPA was not good at communicating its requirements and its limits or its other experiences and the CAG was too unwilling to compromise. Still, the CAG has brought the issue to national attention, and the several municipal groups continue to try to work together, despite some loss of civility. Pilling hopes Ambler can keep its local identity but also develop regional appeal as a hub on a greenway.

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Grew up in Ambler area, Spring House, Pennsylvania. Remembers open land, farms, factories, small businesses. White Mountains just part of landscape; neighborhood considered bad. Upper Dublin Township schools until high school, then Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Degree from Temple University, Ambler in horticulture and landscape architecture. Not much interaction with Ambler proper. Some changes in Ambler’s character. Little connection between Temple Ambler and Borough of Ambler.

Moving to Government
12

Became administrator of Montgomery County Open Space Program. Emphasizes both local and regional aspects. Discusses involvement of Program in decision about high-rise project. Position of Citizens for a Better Ambler (CBA). Loss of green space, view. On Board of Wissahickon Valley Waterfowl Association (WVWA); their attempt to get reservoir.

Community Advisory Group (CAG)
14

CAG formed from nucleus of CBA. Provides information and misinformation. Different factions on CAG, but all rallied against high-rise. No one objective. She represents Montgomery County. Division of opinions: conspiracy theorists; desire for certain outcome. Closest neighbors of White Mountains not at meetings. Most vocal at meetings those who just want cause. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) no credibility. CAG not trying to help; just to promote own several viewpoints. Removal complete, EPA will leave site contained and safe but useless.

Hopes and Concerns
21

Wants Ambler to keep local and individual identity but also develop regional appeal. Was on future use group. Too many wanted all asbestos removed entirely. Disagreement due to: EPA leaving use up to Ambler; too many afraid of asbestos; some making political careers. Says better than open asbestos, but pessimistic about future. EPA not good at communicating, not flexible; language difficulty; CAG too contentious, unwilling to compromise. Municipal groups still trying to work together. Mix of people worked well; CAG has brought national importance to issue.

General Thoughts
26

Removing asbestos entirely more harmful than containing it. Preferred rearrangement of asbestos by EPA so some areas could be accessible to public; instead EPA says what is suitable. Cannot get information about other sites’ final uses. Cannot get EPA to say how Ambler can use site or CAG to say how it wants to use site, so site ends up useless. Believes one meeting could have been enough to discuss possibilities and costs. Thinks RIF will conclude site well remediated. Civility lost at CAG. Recommends talking to Eduardo Rivera for EPA’s view.

Index
31

About the Interviewer

Lee Sullivan Berry

Lee Sullivan Berry earned a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff member in the Center for Oral History, Berry conducts background research and oral history interviews, edits transcripts of completed interviews, and coordinates with interviewers and interviewees to finalize transcripts. She was the lead interviewer for the REACH Ambler project and has presented her work at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region.